Gay and unmarried couples could win the same pensions and benefits rights as their married counterparts, following proposals to be put forward this month for amendment of the European Convention on Human Rights.

A report by the commitee of experts on human rights to the 40 countries which make up the Council of Europe, will call for an extension of Article 14 of the convention, which outlaws discrimination on the origins of sex, colour or religion, to include sexual orientation.

As early as June next year a protocol could be adopted by the council to prevent member governments ruling against the pensions rights of couples due to their sex or status.

It is believed the amendment could have been prompted by recent high profile European court cases, including that of Kristina Sheffield from the UK, who changed sex from male to female, but was denied the right to change her birth certificate accordingly.

Alfonso de Salas, secretary of the European Council steering committee on human rights, said:It is a little premature to predict the outcome of present discussions, and some countries such as France are already indicating they could have problems with any amendments. It could just be that European Court judges will be given more scope to apply non-discriminatory rulings on sexual orientation."

"But something should be ratified by the middle of next year," he added.

Dimitri Marchenkov, spokesperson at the Council of Europe, said there would be a closed meeting of the council's steering committee this month to discuss the proposals, however, he feels any convention amendment will depend on the will of member states."